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Saturday, September 20, 2014
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State budget takes center-stage today in Baton Rouge

Last Modified: Sunday, April 28, 2013 8:02 PM

By Jim Beam / American Press

The state’s $24.7 billion budget for the new fiscal year starting July 1 takes center-stage today as Louisiana legislators begin the fourth week of their fiscal session.

Committees will also hold hearings on bills that would change the homestead exemption, reform the property assessment process, create a higher education district to help fund colleges and universities and set up a constitutional convention to deal with financial issues.

The House Appropriations Committee will take up House Bill 1 that contains the state spending plan for fiscal year 2013-14. During the hearing, Kristy Nichols, Gov. Bobby Jindal’s commissioner of administration, will offer amendments that restore funds to some programs.

Nichols said the changes are being offered after the administration worked with those affected by the programs that had their funding reduced and heard previous testimony from the public.

The amendments would restore $700,000 for breast and cervical cancer screenings at LSU hospitals, $1 million towards the Department of Children and Family Service’s Family Violence Prevention and Intervention Program, $1.1 million for the Office of Elderly Affairs’ senior prescription drug program and $1.3 million in additional funding for the Louisiana State Police’s Concealed Handgun Permit Unit.

Nichols said money for those programs will come from excess self-generated funding from the Office of Alcohol and Tobacco Control and an undesignated excess fund balance in the Medical Assistance Program and Fraud Detection Unit.

The Appropriations Committee will also take up HB 452 that transfers $494.8 million in various funds into the Overcollections Fund. All of that funding is in the higher education budget for the next fiscal year.

An effort is expected to be made to remove $500 million in one-time money from the budget. If House members can’t find a way to restore the funding, that responsibility would end up in the state Senate, a process that has become an annual routine.

Rep. Brett Geymann, R-Moss Bluff, is a leader of the “Fiscal Hawks,” a group of legislators who want to reform the budget process.

“We want to fix the problem, not the Senate,” Geymann said last week. “There are 105 members here who can do it.”

Rep. Mike Danahay, D-Sulphur, is sponsor of House Resolution 1 that requires consideration of the budget at least 16 days before the last day of the session. It will be heard Tuesday by the House and Governmental Affairs Committee.  

The purpose of the resolution is to avoid last-minute consideration of the budget and give legislators time to override possible vetoes before the session adjourns. Lawmakers have been reluctant to return to Baton Rouge for veto sessions.

Homestead exemption bills will be heard today by the House Ways and Means Committee.

Rep. Hunter Greene, R-Baton Rouge, has two homestead exemption bills that are constitutional amendments requiring a two-thirds vote and approval by voters statewide. HB 330 would reduce the current $75,000 homestead exemption to $25,000. HB 331 would impose property taxes on the first $10,000 of the $75,000 homestead exemption. The rest would still be homestead exempt.

Rep. Walt Leger, D-New Orleans, and No. 2 man in the House, is sponsor of HB 521. It would raise the homestead exemption to $90,000, but make the first $10,000 of that taxable.

Speaker of the House Chuck Kleckley, R-Lake Charles, has two assessment procedure bills. HB 369 would require assessors to put the previous year’s property assessment on notices going out that list the value of property that has been reappraised. Kleckley wants the property assessment difference to be clearly indicated on the notice.

HB 514 would require assessors to phase in property value increases over a three-year period if the value goes up more than 15 percent during reappraisal. The purpose is to avoid extremely high property assessment increases at one time like some of those that occurred in Calcasieu Parish after property was reappraised.

Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, has HB 576 that would create the Higher Education Improvement District. It would be governed by a board of five members that would have authority – with public approval – to levy a property tax of up to 5 mills. Revenues would be used to supplement funding for colleges and universities.

House and Governmental Affairs on Tuesday will hear HB 88 that sets term limits for statewide elected officials. The measure by Simone Champagne, R-Erath, would limit them to three consecutive four-year terms.

The legislation would apply to the lieutenant governor, secretary of state, attorney general, treasurer and commissioners of insurance and agriculture. The governor is already limited to two consecutive four-year terms. Champagne had an identical constitutional amendment last year, but the vote was 49-49. That is 21 votes short of the two-thirds (70) needed for approval.

Rep. A.B. Franklin, D-Lake Charles, is back again with a bill (HB 557) that creates two election districts for the two judges on the Lake Charles City Court. His legislation never got out of committee last year.

The committee will also hear HB 621 by Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, that sets up a constitutional convention. The convention would convene Jan. 15, 2015, and would be limited to constitutional changes dealing with financial reform.

Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, has Senate Bill 74 that will be heard by the Senate Revenue and Fiscal Affairs Committee. It would allow everyone over 65 to freeze his or her property assessments. Current law sets an income threshold of $69,463, which means persons earning over that amount can’t freeze their assessments unless they are in special categories like military veterans or disabled individuals

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